Hi! My name is Martha Jean, but you can also call me MJ. This is my blog.
I write about and share nifty things about nifty topics like business, technology, art, science, music, literature, the meaning of life, and of course, silly nonsense.
Wanna talk to me? Go for it! I look forward to hearing from you.
“Because it’s hard for people to gauge quality by flavor, they tend to gauge it by price. That’s a mistake. [Industry consultant Sue] Langstaff has evaluated wine professionally for twenty years. In her opinion, the difference between a $500 bottle of wine and one that costs $30 is largely hype. ‘Wineries that sell their wines for $500 a bottle have the same problems as wineries that sell their wine for $10 a bottle. You can’t make the statement that if it’s low-cost it’s not well made.’ Most of the time, people don’t even prefer the expensive bottle — provided they can’t see the label. Paul Wagner, a top wine judge and founding contributor to the industry blog Through the Bung-hole, plays a game with his wine-marketing classes at Napa Valley College. The students, most of whom have several years’ experience in the industry, are asked to rank six wines, their labels hidden by — a nice touch here — brown paper bags. All are wines Wagner himself enjoys. At least one is under $10 and two are over $50. ‘Over the past eighteen years, every time,’ he told me, ‘the least expensive wine averages the highest ranking, and the most expensive two finish at the bottom.’ In 2011, a Gallo cabernet scored the highest average rating, and a Chateau Gruaud Larose (which retails from between $60 and $70) took the bottom slot.
“Unscrupulous vendors turn the situation to their advantage. In China, nouveau-riche status-seekers are spending small fortunes on counterfeit Bordeaux. (from Mary Roach)
“Marc Dornan, of the Beverage Testing Institute, for instance, says to anyone who asks him that rating wines on a hundred-point scale, which is now common practice, is ‘utterly pseudoscientific.’ Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine, believes that most commentary about wines fails to take into account the biological individuality of consumers; he claims that he can predict what sort of wine appeals to you according to such factors as how heavily you salt your food and whether your mother suffered a lot from morning sickness while carrying you. Hanni has said for years that the matching of a particular wine with a particular food is a scam, there being ‘absolutely no premise historically, culturally, or biologically for drinking red wine with meat.’ As a way of illustrating the role played by anticipation in taste, Frédéric Brochet, who is a researcher with the enology faculty of the University of Bordeaux, recently asked some experts to describe two wines that appeared by their labels to be a distinguished grand-cru classe and a cheap table wine — actually, Brochet had refilled both bottles with a third, mid-level wine — and found his subjects mightily impressed by the supposed grand cru and dismissive of the same wine when it was in the vin ordinaire bottle.
“An urge to refute the notion of expertise certainly seemed to be reflected in the headline of an article from the Times of London about the research Brochet has been carrying on — ‘CHEEKY LITTLE TEST EXPOSES WINE ‘EXPERTS’ AS WEAK AND FLAT.’ The headline caught the tone of the article, by Adam Sage, which began, ‘Drinkers have long suspected it, but now French researchers have finally proved it: wine ‘experts’ know no more than the rest of us.’ The test of Brochet’s that caught my eye consisted partly of asking wine drinkers to describe what appeared to be a white wine and a red wine. They were in fact two glasses of the same white wine, one of which had been colored red with flavorless and odorless dye. The comments about the ‘red’ wine used what people in the trade call red-wine descriptors. ‘It is a well known psychological phenomenon — you taste what you’re expecting to taste,’ Brochet said in the Times. ‘They were expecting to taste a red wine and so they did… . About two or three per cent of people detect the white wine flavour, but invariably they have little experience of wine culture. Connoisseurs tend to fail to do so. The more training they have, the more mistakes they make because they are influenced by the color of the wine.’ ” (from Calvin Trillin)
Author: Mary Roach
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Date: Copyright 2013 by Mary Roach. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company
I just want to take a moment and express gratitude for the positive life and career changes I’ve been able to make over the last few months. Each day brings a new confirmation that I have finally been making the right decisions for myself and my future, and I couldn’t be happier.
As part of my curation duties for Atlanta’s weekly Startup Digest email, I wrote this article and originally published it in the digest on Monday, April 29th, 2013. Enjoy!
David Moeller, CEO of Atlanta-based startup CodeGuard, has lived all over the world: from Tennessee to Germany, from Los Angeles to New York, and many places in between, which may make you wonder whether his regular need to reboot his lifestyle in new cities led to the development of his SAAS product. Imagine that you must suddenly start your life over from scratch when you move to a new home or, heaven forfend, find your home robbed bare by ne’er-do-wells. Wouldn’t it be nice if a troupe of magical elves could conjure up an exact replica of your home and immediately reinstate it, embarrassing prom photos, dirty underwear, and all?
That is a bit what CodeGuard is like, but with software instead of magic and websites instead of houses. Codeguard is a server that constantly monitors and backs up your site so that it can be restored to you safely and soundly, saving everything from silly cat photos to business critical files from the dangers of human error, technical failure, or a deliberate hack.
“CodeGuard helps people by providing peace of mind,” David explains. “Now thousands of people across the globe will no longer have to worry about their websites if they are hacked or something goes wrong.”
With its product-focused, engineering-driven culture, CodeGuard has been shaped into a company that embodies the spirit of its CEO, who explains that he is a dreamer of “tangible, realizable, and realistic goals.” David and the rest of the CodeGuard team have crafted products to achieve their objectives.
“I am excited about the future as I reflect upon the last two years and the progress we have made,” he says. “Our product development process is streamlined, and we are doing a much better job of producing great product. It also helps to be at a place of solid product-market fit and understanding.”
David offers experienced advice to others who are exploring the possibility of taking a new product to market: learn from the examples and mistakes of others.
“I have found it helpful to try to understand the best practices that other startups are using to grow and develop product,” he explains. “I think startups need a healthy balance of product and marketing excellence to really take off, but understanding why a particular strategy worked for another company is essential, rather than just blindly applying it.”
Perhaps another essential component to success is laser-like focus on solving a common problem, as CodeGuard focuses on solving the common need for assurance that one’s website won’t disappear in a cloud of smoke and processors.
After all, as David sagely notes, “There is no need to have a perfect product that no one is using.”
I wrote this article for Atlanta’s weekly Startup Digest email, which I curate. It was originally published in the digest on Monday, April 8th, 2013.
With Hands on Test, he focuses on easing a job he has experienced firsthand: hiring software developers.
“Hiring the right software programmer is difficult and costly for an organization,” he says. “We want to decrease the risk of making a bad hire, while also providing an environment for candidates to demonstrate their real-world coding skills. We want to help companies connect to exceptional talent and connect exceptional talent to great companies.”
Hands On Test was born out of Towe’s own needs in his previous role, in which he was responsible for a large IT organization.
“We were constantly interviewing software programmers and tried a lot of different ways to get it right,” he admits. “We spent at least $500k annually just on screening programmers.”
Towe worked to improve and perfect the hiring process to make it more time efficient and cost effective.
“We tried reading through examples, white board tests, multiple choice exams and several other variations,” he says. “But even with a rigorous, time-consuming interview process, we were still occasionally shocked and dismayed to see below par work from new hires.”
Instead of accepting these hiring results as the norm, Towe and his future Hands On Test cofounder, Chris Hardwick, committed themselves to finding a solution to the problem.
“We decided to invest the time to create an actual real-world work scenario in a real-world environment,” Towe says. “We put this to the test with the programmers we interviewed. We immediately saw the benefits and packaged this strategy so that others can enjoy the same outcomes. The result is Hands On Test.”
As the co-founder of a firm that specializes in simplifying the hiring process, Towe thoroughly understands the importance of proper hiring practices for his own business.
“At our stage as a startup this is vitally important,” he explains. “We don’t have any margin to make a bad hiring decision, so we vet candidates very carefully to make sure they are a good skill, culture, and team fit. We can’t compromise on what’s important to us, and we have to make sure those we bring onto our teams can be successful at the job we hire them to do. People decisions are the most important decisions.”
Towe’s emphasis on making sound “people decisions” extends from his professional to his personal life, and he is a devoted husband and father.
“I have three children under 9 years old - Joshua is 8, Jacob is 5, and Anniston is 2 - so they keep me busy. One moment I’m playing Super Mario Brothers Wii and the next I’m dancing with Cinderella. They keep me on my toes.”
Between managing his startup and focusing on his family, Towe also finds time for one of his favorite hobbies: reading.
“I read all the time, maybe too much,” he confesses, “but books have mentored me in many ways during different seasons of my life. It is said that ‘readers lead and leaders read,’ and I can see the benefit of having a consistent habit to read books. The book that has had the most recent impact to my startup is The Four Steps to Epiphany by Steve Blank. This is a must read for anyone wanting to start a company.”
Towe also recommends another book that has shaped his approach to life beyond his career.
“From a personal perspective, the most recent book to resonate with me is Love Does by Bob Goff. I’m inspired by his life and faith…I’m motivated by doing something that matters. I love what Bob Goff says about this. He says, ‘I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.’ I want to work on things that make a difference for other people.”
To experience how Hands On Test could make a difference for you and your firm, simply visit www.HandsOnTest.com and start using it.
“Use our product and provide feedback,” Towe encourages. “Our desire is to build a product that has real value for our customers. The best way to figure this out is to get people to use the product and then engage us with their feedback. This way we can validate our assumptions about what is important and what is not important.”
Focusing on what is most important — people — well, that is something for which Towe and Hands On Test have a real talent.
Corey Towe’s 3 Top Rules for Successful Entrepreneurs
I asked Corey for his top three pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here are his answers:
“The other piece of advice I want to give you before moving on to the next level of the toolbox in this: The adverb is not your friend.
“Adverbs, you will remember … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
“Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?
“Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day … fifty the day after that … and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.
“I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions … and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:
“Put it down!” she shouted.
“Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.
“In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:
“Put it down!” she shouted menacingly.
“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously.
“The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately. “Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously is the best of the lot; it is only a cliche, while the other two are actively ludicrous. Such dialogue attributions are sometimes known as ‘Swifties,’ after Tom Swift, the brave inventor-hero in a series of boys’ adventure novels written by Victor Appleton II. Appleton was fond of such sentences as “Do your worst!” Tom cried bravelyand “My father helped with the equations,” Tom said modestly. When I was a teenager there was a party-game based on one’s ability to create witty (or half-witty) Swifties. “You got a nice butt, lady,” he said cheekily is one I remember; another is “I’m the plumber,” he said, with a flush. (In this case the modifier is an adverbial phrase.) …
“Some writers try to evade the no-adverb rule by shooting the attribution verb full of steroids. The result is familiar to any reader of pulp fiction or paperback originals:
“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
“Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.
“You damned tease!” Bill jerked out.
“Don’t do these things. Please oh please. The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said.”
Author: Stephen King
Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: Copyright 2000 by Stephen King
I recently completed the audio version of Daniel Pink’s new book, “To Sell is Human.” In it, Pink explains many ideas and theories related to relationship-based sales and non-sales selling.
I was struck by the similarity between one of his sales strategies another idea I’ve read recently in the book “Nutureshock” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
Bronson and Merryman suggest that telling children they are smart, a tactic supported by our culture’s obsession with nurturing high self-esteem, actually decreases their confidence and performance on difficult tasks.
Similarly, sales people don’t perform best when they embrace the decades-old tactic of pumping themselves up with positive, self-aggrandizing pep talks.
Instead, it appears that both children and sales people perform best when they are taught the following: one’s ability to achieve success in social, physical, and intellectual pursuits is not static and can be enhanced through training.
If you fail at something, don’t conclude that you are stupid or an abject failure. If you succeed at something, don’t conclude that you are smart or naturally superior.
Instead, acknowledge that, with the exception of timing and luck, success and failure depend on hard work and preparation.
You will make the highest grades and become “smarter” by studying, learning, and working to improve. You will make the most sales and become more successful by — guess what? — studying, learning, and working to improve.
To successfully study, learn, and work to improve, approach tests, sales calls, and problems by asking yourself questions like:
Prepare your mind for critical thinking and problem solving instead of psyching yourself up with pithy self help phrases like, “I’m smart! I’m the best salesperson ever! Everyone wants to buy from me! I’m the best ever!”
When you approach challenges by asking yourself those questions, not only will you be in a calm, humble, intelligent frame of mind, and not only will you actually have made yourself better prepared, but you will also be well on your way to constructing measurable, achievable goals and actions that you can hone to perfect your process.
And that means you’ll have even more successes in the future.
I’d say that’s a good thing. How about you?